By Jim Leffman
Looking on the bright side of life could protect you against dementia, a new study claims.
Positive, extrovert and conscientious people are less likely to get a dementia diagnosis than those with neurotic or negative personality traits.
Scientists from Northwestern University and the University of California, Davis said that the difference wasn’t due to brain damage but how traits allow some people to better navigate dementia-related impairments.
The team analyzed data from eight published studies involving more than 44,000 people, of whom 1,703 developed dementia.
They looked at the “big five” personality traits of conscientiousness, extraversion, openness to experience, neuroticism and agreeableness along with subjective wellbeing positive and negative affect, and life satisfaction.
They then compared these traits too clinical symptoms of dementia such as performance on cognitive tests and brain pathology at autopsy.
Although there have been studies trying to link personality to dementia these have been small and only in specific populations.
First author Dr. Emorie Beck, assistant professor of psychology at UC Davis said: “We wanted to leverage new technology to synthesize these studies and test the strength and consistency of these associations.
“If those links hold up, then targeting personality traits for change in interventions earlier in life could be a way to reduce dementia risk in the long term.”
Writing in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, she said people who score high on conscientiousness may be more likely to eat well and take care of their health, which results in better health in the long term.
They found that high scores on negative traits and low scores on positive traits were associated with a higher risk of a dementia diagnosis.
High scores on openness to experience, agreeableness, and life satisfaction had a protective effect in a smaller subset of studies.
However no link was found between these personality traits and actual neuropathology in the brains of people after death.
Prof Beck said: “This was the most surprising finding to us
“If personality is predictive of performance on cognitive tests but not pathology, what might be happening?”
“A possible explanation is that some personality traits could make people more resilient to the damage caused by diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”
People with high levels of some traits may find ways, even subconsciously, to cope with and work around impairments.
The team also showed that some people with quite extensive physical symptoms in the brain can show little impairment on cognitive tests.
So they looked at other factors between personality and dementia risk and neuropathology, including age, gender and educational attainment.
Dr. Beck said: “We found almost no evidence for effects, except that conscientiousness’s protective effect increased with age.”
Apart from genetics, there are many factors in dementia and it is hoped the study might provide the first steps into finding out what causes the condition to manifest itself and what could prevent this happening.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker